Nestled hillside off highway 70, just outside of Graeagle, CA, I discovered (thanks to my friend Debra) a covert local attraction fermenting liquor of the malted variety. UnderCover Ale Works is the brainchild of Rich and Susan, two artisan brewmasters with a passion for hop-infused spirits. There were a number of folks at the brewery, all intently listening to Rich enthusiastically tell us about the beer making process. After a while, we each took a glass of our favorite style ale and headed to some outdoor seating in a clearing among tall pines. It was a lovely evening, so I broke out my chessboard and challenged Debra to a game. We ended up playing three…actually, the third game never finished as lively discussions began to ensue.
I’m often reminded of this when I was traveling through Montana and one of my best friends told me I should go out of my way to stop by the tiny town of Philipsburg to visit the candy shop. “A candy shop,” I said! “Why would I go out of my way to visit a tiny town just to go to a candy shop,” I exclaimed. “Trust me, it will be worth it” he said. Sweet Palace was started in the late 90s by a woman with a vision, and, the passion, desire and tenacity to see it through. This passionate person was not just starting a candy shop, she was building a destination. While people might go to Philipsburg, MT for the “candy shop,” they’re now greeted by quality lodging, restaurants and other shops. While it took many to re-invent this old community, you can probably credit a single person for putting it on the map.
"M’ Mountain” or just The “M” if you’re a local, is a great hike while in Bozeman, Montana. I did the “M” with one of my best friends and his family in May of 2011. Once you reach the famously visible “M” (which stands for Montana State University [MSU]) you’re rewarded with spectacular views of the Gallatin Valley below, along with mountain peaks in the distance. There are two trails up the “M…” the right fork, which is quite steep and follows the ridge-line—or, the left side, which is a bit easier via a series of switchbacks through a beautiful forest of Juniper trees. During our hike we chose to go up the right fork and come down the left… just to mix it up a bit. There are more trees on the trail to the left, which provides some welcomed shade on a warm summer day.
I recently had the pleasure of staying at the Grey Cliffs Ranch, which epitomizes the Montana experience if you ask me. The Ranch is flanked by the Madison River and encompasses more than 5000 acres…it’s located just thirty minutes west of Bozeman in the Madison Valley. The lodge at Grey Cliffs Ranch is over 8000 square feet with an abundance of deck and patio space. The exposed post beam construction and open floor plan provides soaring ceilings and spectacular views from the main floor. No expense was spared in the construction or furnishing of this lodge. There are five distinctly furnished guest rooms with the entire upper floor dedicated to the “owner’s quarters.”
There are so many fun and exciting things to do at the Ranch…depending on the time of year you visit; you might opt for some upland bird hunting for pheasant or chukar partridge. Or perhaps try your hand at some trap shooting on their wonderful range (actually I think you can do both trap and skeet, but I’m not 100% sure of the difference between the two). There are a number of guided fishing options to choose from…you can hit one of two stocked ponds on the property, or head over to the Madison, Gallatin, Yellowstone or Jefferson rivers. There is also big game hunting, long-range shooting and an abundance of places to go for an afternoon hike. If you just want to relax, there’s no better place…the downstairs common area is a wonderful place for watching a movie on the big screen, or playing a board game. Upstairs you can nestle up to the massive fireplace and read a book, or grab a lounge chair on the expansive deck and take in the awe-inspiring views while listening to the wildlife.
I have wanted to make the trek to Glacier National Park for years now, so it was nice to see my desires realized. While I was there, Glacier was celebrating its 100 years as a National Park. 100 years ago there were more than 150 glaciers in the park; today, sadly only 25 remain—which was certainly a disappointment since the few that remain are difficult to reach, as much of the park is inaccessible by vehicle.
Glacier National Park is quite stunning, with beautiful ice-carved terrain of ragged ridges, protruding peaks and dramatic vistas—with over 200 lakes, waterfalls abound and thick forests covering more than 1.2-million acres. Deer are among the most commonly spotted wildlife but elk, moose, mountain goats, eagles, bighorn sheep, wolves, grizzly and black bears (I actually saw a grizzly right at the west entrance one day) roam its wild vastness.In summer a plethora of flowers, grasses and budding trees covers the landscape high and low. Snow-white mountain goats, with their wispy white beards and curious stares, are seen in alpine areas, and sure-footed bighorn sheep graze the high meadows in the short summers. The largest population of grizzly bears in the lower 48 states lives in-and-around the park.
Since I visited Glacier during the summer, I can only imagine the contrast of the winter and how wonderful it would be to go exploring with a pair of cross-country skis or snowshoes.
Glacier Mountain Lodge is probably one of the finest places I’ve ever had the privilege of staying. No expense was spared when building this beautiful structure, which also includes two separate cabin retreats on the eight acres the property encompasses. The grounds are fabulously designed with several dramatic water features, including a pond in which you’re allowed to do some recreational catch-and-release fishing.
The mountains, vista and pasture views are just breathtaking. The common areas are lush with quality furnishings. One room includes a large screen T.V. for your viewing pleasure, although each room does come equipped with its own. There is even a wine bar with complimentary wine so that you may toast the evening or enjoy on one of the many decks or patios that look-out at the many marvelous views. There is also no denying how conveniently located the Glacier Mountain Lodge is from all the things you’ll want to do in the area. Located just outside of Columbia Falls, Montana, the Lodge is merely 20 minutes from either Whitefish, Flathead Lake or Glacier National Park (west entrance).
Yellowstone National Park is probably the “grand daddy” of the National Park system, although you might be surprised to learn that it is not the most popular. Any guesses? I myself would have guessed “The Grand Canyon,” however the most popular, by-far-and-away, are The Great Smoky Mountains (with just under 10m visitors per year). Yellowstone is the 4th most popular with 3.2m annual visitors.
Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is America’s first national park. Located in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, it’s home to a large variety of wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves, bison, dear, bald eagles and elk…just to name a few. Preserved within Yellowstone National Park are Old Faithful and a collection of the world’s most extraordinary geysers and hot springs. Old Faithful is probably the most popular attraction in Yellowstone, and while it’s interesting, I personally found it a bit anticlimactic. It was like seeing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. The traffic getting in/out of the “Old Faithful” area requires a lot of patience. There are so many other interesting geothermal areas with similar geysers, that if I had it all to do over again, with hindsight on my side, I would have skipped the Old Faithful area. (As a side note: Old Faithful isn’t all the faithful, it was over 9 min. late when I was there) :-) If you’re looking for a wilderness experience, not to worry, Yellowstone is as big as the state’s of Rhode Island and Delaware combined. The park is absolutely massive with six entrances (I have made it through five now). Many of the roads in the park close in the fall and winter, so spring and summer are the best times to visit…unless of course you’re a snow enthusiast.
I came to Dillon, Montana for one reason only, to visit a very dear friend of mine—otherwise I can’t imagine it being on my radar as a place I had to go. While I’ve enjoyed my time in this quaint little town, Dillon is more a place for raising families than attracting tourists—for some travelers that might actually have great appeal. It’s always fun to check out small towns that are off the beaten path. And, there is no question that Dillon has its charm…from wonderfully restored homes to a satellite college campus embracing its past, to a moderately delightful downtown. Dillon has a population of 4000 and is located in Montana’s Gold West Country. It began its early days as an important shipping destination from Utah to the gold fields of Montana. The Northern Railroad reached Dillon in the 1880s. The rich agriculturally valley was a welcomed place for Sheep ranching—at one time Dillon was the largest wool producer in Montana. The first cattle were brought to the valley in 1865 and they continue to play a major role in Dillon’s development. La Cense Beef is a local ranch producing 100% grass-fed beef direct to the consumer, competing head-to-head with the more well-known, Omaha Steaks.
No matter where you are in Montana you can expect great scenery and plenty to do. In Dillon there are several nearby lakes and rivers to fish, or perhaps check out the Beaverhead County Museum or a historic walking tour. There are also Lewis & Clark trail sites near Dillon including, Camp Fortunate, Clark’s Lookout and Beaverhead Rock.
For more than forty years the population of Red Lodge, MT has hovered around 2000…despite it’s small size, this town is full of quality amenities and never short on things to see or do. One of the contributing factors to Red Lodge’s vibrancy and economic prosperity is that it’s at the gateway to the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park via the most spectacular stretch of highway in the United States, the Beartooth byway.
Some of the things to do in Red Lodge include, hiking, biking, fishing, horseback riding, scenic drives, skiing, golf, nature watching, local festivals and so much more. There are a number of great places to stay while in Red Lodge, like The Pollard, Big Sky Cabins, Rocky Fork Inn and the place I stayed, Gallagher’s Irish Rose Bed and Breakfast, which is in the heart of town and walkable to nearly everything. Red Lodge can accommidate just about any budget, there several affordable hotels and motels to choose from.
I was also impressed with the restaurant scene in Red Lodge (especially for a small town where mediocrity often rules), I had the pleasure of eating at a few different places while I was there. One establishment I would recommend would be Bridge Creek. I also had a nice meal at Bogart’s, however the service left something to be desired. If you’re looking for a bit higher-end place try, the Pollard.
No trip to Red Lodge would be complete without taking a drive through the Beartooth highway. Designated an All-American Road in 2002, the Beartooth Highway has been described by Charles Kuralt (former CBS newsman) as “the most beautiful drive in America.” Reaching heights of nearly 11,000 feet, the 50-mile drive offers awe-inspiring views of snow capped peaks, glaciers, alpine lakes and plateaus (note: Hwy 212 is only open seasonally).
Recreation opportunities are abundant in the area. Visitors can cross-country ski in; hike across the broad plateaus; view and photograph wildlife (Rocky Mountain goat, moose, black bear, grizzly bear, marmots, mule deer); take a guided horseback trip; fish for trout in the streams and lakes and camp in the thirteen National Forest campgrounds. Even when the Highway is formally closed to cars, snowmobilers may travel the route and enjoy a spectacular winter wonderland.